Tuesday 29 November 2016

Bible Book:

plead for the widow." (vv. 16-17)

Isaiah 1:12-20 Tuesday 29 November 2016

Psalm: Psalm 63


Today's passage follows immediately from yesterday's and again evokes the scenarioof a court of law, where God's people "come to appear" (v. 1)before God. If possible, read the passage aloud and hear thedifferent voices in which God speaks - first as judge, stating theaccusations and the remedy, but then (in verses 18-20) more asarbitrator, offering reconciliation and restoration, although stillwith a sting in the tail for any who "refuse and rebel" (v.20).

There are passages in the Old Testament where God condemnsIsrael for adopting the pagan religious rites of other tribes andnations (eg Jeremiah 5:18-19). This is not what ishappening here - if anything, this is even more serious, God isdeclaring as futile the very practices and rituals which Godordained for Jewish worship. It is not offerings, incense, Sabbathand appointed festivals which are wrong, for how could God everdenounce prayer or the Sabbath? Rather it is the way in which theyare being conducted; misuse is the heart of the problem. So thereis a two-fold warning here; firstly against complacency, even thepeople of Jerusalem are not faultless in their worship, but alsoagainst having a false understanding of what religious practice canachieve. Strong language is used in the denunciation; meaningless,detestable, burdensome, unbearable… God is not mildly irritated bywhat is going on, but thoroughly disgusted. As we move through theseason of Advent and begin to make our preparations for Christmas,both in our homes and in our churches, maybe there is a warninghere for us as well?


Just as the accusation is clear, so is the remedy, given inverses 16-17. It is graphically introduced with the idea of handsbeing stretched out in worship and prayer but in vain, for thosesame hands are "full of blood" (v. 15). Not the blood of sacrifice,which builds relationship with God, but the blood of oppressedpeople, which destroys it. Cleansing is needed - not merely, weunderstand, the many rituals for washing hands, clothing andutensils which formed part of the Jewish practice, but a deepercleansing, inextricably linked with a change of behaviour. Therefollows a cry from the heart of God for the people to "cease to doevil [and] learn to do good". This "good" is defined as seekingjustice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan and pleadingfor the widow. In other words, showing holiness by taking practicalaction against injustice.

In grace, God now steps between the accuser and the accused andoffers a way through. Forgiveness is available, mercy is on hand,the 'cleansing' of verse 16 can take place for scarlet sins canbecome white as snow, red can be turned to wool-white. All that isnow required is for the people to be both willing and obedient. Itis an appeal from the lover to the beloved.

To Ponder

  • Do you ever feel that you or your church is abusing religiouspractice? How does that happen?
  • Holiness and Justice, the theme set for this year by the President and Vice-President of the Conference isparticularly relevant to today's passage. If you have time thisweek, watch again their passionate addresses from the opening ofConference in June by clicking the links above.
  • "Willing and obedient" (v. 19) are both words which challengeour will, our motivation, our mindset. Ponder the words today andask God for the grace to become more willing and moreobedient.
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